Thursday, 28 November 2013

lemongrass spice paste

lemongrass spice paste
the last of autumn is fast receding. the trees are nearly bare, an erect frame of bark and branch. on sunny days, the light has been silver bright and the air so cold that it almost hurts to breathe. this is the season for soups and i am partial to those that clarify the senses, expanding the ability to breathe deeply and fully. such soups are aromatic and bright with ingredients like chillies, ginger and coriander.

the easiest way to make such soups is to start with a spice paste. the one i am sharing with you today has become a staple at thirty-two. i always have a jar of it in the fridge (and a little in reserve in the freezer). it is an amalgam of my favourite aromatics and spices.

there is the citrus-floral of lemongrass, the earthy freshness of fresh coriander complimented by dry roasted seeds and the astringent notes of ginger, garlic and lemon. the heat comes from a generous handful of thai bird chillies, the kind that catch at the back of the throat should you inhale them. i use a banana shallot to give the paste body and a drizzle of honey to mellow and bind the flavours. the resulting spice paste is a vibrant green that suggests spring even in the dull and dark of winter.

the ingredients for the spice paste
i normally use three to four heaped tablespoons of the spice paste, frying it for a minute or so to allow the garlic and shallots to lose their edge and for the dry spices to release their aromas. then lengthen with stock or coconut milk or a little of both. i like simmering vegetables, proteins, grains or noodles in the broth (of course varying the time for the ingredients). my favourite soup is based on home made chicken stock, baby bok choi, a handful of suparsnap peas with a tangle of rice noodles and prawns. when ready i ladle the soup into deep bowls and garnish it with crushed peanuts or roasted cashews. o likes the same but made with coconut milk. i find that creaminess restrains the fiery temperament but then to each his own.

{lemongrass spice paste}

a banana shallot
a two inch knob of ginger
three fat cloves of garlic (or six small skinny ones)
two stalks of lemon grass
twenty-five grams fresh chillies (red and green)
seventy-five grams coriander leaves and stalks
one tablespoon salt
one tablespoon coriander seeds
one teaspoon turmeric
two tablespoons honey
the juice of a lemon
two tablespoons sunflower oil

peel the banana shallot, garlic cloves and ginger. strip the lemon grass of its outer layer only if it is bruised. trim the woody base and cut into three pieces. trim the tops of the chillies.

wash the coriander and trim the roots in so far as necessary. dry roast the coriander seeds in a small pan shaking them often to make sure that they do not burn.

place all the ingredients except the sunflower oil in your food processer. start by pulsing it to break the ingredients down. then process for at least a minute to achieve an almost smooth paste.

trickle the sunflower oil into the paste whilst processing. the paste will have some texture from the lemongrass but it should hold together. halve the paste storing some in a jam jar for immediate use and the remainder in the freezer for the future.

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